Est. 1999

logomaji1.gif (23692 bytes)

I raise my hand and touch the wheel of change
taking time to check the dial

                                                                      Home      Articles     Messageboard  


Rock Magazine
May 24, 1971
Courtesy of Linda Crafar.

Rock71a.jpg (9688 bytes)



Easy Does It

By Bud Scoppa

Stephen Giorgio and Alun Davies sat in straight-backed chairs facing 2300 non believers. From the Fillmore East balcony, Cat Stevens and partner looked hopelessly tiny. Just two seated figures holding guitars; no banks of amps, no massed drums, no sparkle suits.

From the audience came a continuous buzz, as if each member was surprised by the puniness of the foe. Still, the crowd would have to amuse itself by toying with these already overwhelmed figures - perhaps even shame them off the stage.


What was that? The dark-haired one had greeted the crowd as if he didn’t realize the danger. He began to play his funny little songs while the audience talked over him. But he didn’t appear to be bothered by the crowd’s lack of commitment — in fact, he seemed to hardly notice.

For the people who were waiting ever so patiently for Traffic to appear, this little upstart had a very annoying habit: he spoke between songs as if he were in someone’s apartment for the first time — polite, friendly, warm. This kind of intimacy was practically unheard of at the Fillmore, with its reputation for toughness. The kid must be awfully naive. . .

Rock712.jpg (7716 bytes)Forty minutes later, this unknown who called himself Cat Stevens had the audience on its feet, not in derision but in happy surprise. No one there that night had ever heard of "Wild World," or "Hard-Headed Woman," or "Father and Son." They’d had nothing to go on except this kid’s straightforward charm. Along the way, the crowds had also learned that Cat Stevens could write songs — and sing them, too — like nobody else. The word spread — gradually, it’s true, but steadily — about this innocent who had shown up Traffic on its home ground.

The next week, Steven Giorgio’s appearance at the tiny Gaslight attracted some of the same people who’d been soothed into submission at the Fillmore. At closer quarters, it was immediately evident that the kid had a singular and irresistable charm to match his talent. In his naivete, he ribboned his songs with unembarrassed, "oohs" and "la-la-la's," and he seemed to enjoy mouthing the syllables. And be used his voice as a little boy would greet his dog. He eagerly bounced from the top to the bottom of its range and back again, glorying in the texture and the feel of it. The unallayed joy he gave himself through his own performance was quickly and evenly distributed among the people who listened.

On top of everything else, Cat Stevens showed himself at close range to be the owner of a finely structured, beautifully open face. A slightly uneven nose kept the face from becoming too proud of itself — kept it from any tendency to take a condescending attitude. The gold of Greek ancestors had been willed to him and he wore it proudly on his skin. His natural Adriatic intensity was balanced by an easy, gentle spirit.Upon seeing him up close, we had an inkling that it was just a matter of time. We were right.

The next morning, AIun Davies confessed he was worried that people would think he and Steve sounded too much like Simon and Garfunkel (a notion that I'm sure had occurred to no one who’d seen them). Paul Simon’s mid-60’s stay in England, and the solo album that resulted from the stay, had indeed been an inspiration to Steve and to many other aspiring English folkies and songwriters. The Paul Simon Songbook (never released in the US) is still among Steve’s favorite albums. The Simon influence is there, in fully assimilated form, but only in some of the melodies. Cat’s songs are much brighter and freer than Simon’s. Steve’s not haunted by the same ghosts. He’s already exorcised them.Rock713.jpg (7089 bytes)

A long bout with tuberculosis put an end to the barely begun career of adolescent Cat Stevens. Before he fell ill, Steve had completed two albums for Deram. Both were filled with clever little songs but burdened with insensitive and heavy-handed arrangements. Another shortcoming: At the time, Steve had no idea what his voice could do. He failed, as a singer, to really take command of his songs — to seize each song by the hair and ram it across, as he does so well now.

His recuperative period was also a time of continuous self-analysis. Steve's bad fortune had its benefits: It’s not often that an individual has the opportunity to take stock of himself just as he's about to embark on his chosen vocation. Young men are too busy doing to reflect — that is, if they can sense success within their reach. The knack of reflection is normally acquired only after this prolonged exertion of youth.

Cat Stevens might have become another mediocre middle-of-the-road pop singer if TB hadn’t stopped him; the photo on the cover of his New Masters LP, on Deram, makes him out to be an eager young Anthony Newley. From "Matthew and Son" to "Why Can’t I Fall In Love" isn't really so great a distance. But good fortune prevailed, discussed as tragedy.

It was apparent to me the morning I met him that this guy was really happy. We see genuinely happy people so rarely these days that the real thing stands out. He was still a nobody at that point last autumn, but that didn’t matter. Steve was flushed with the certainty that he was doing exactly what he wanted to do. It was a bonus that people seemed to like what he did.

During his convalescence, Steve had begun writing songs again. These songs were different than those he’d written before his illness — they had a cathartic effect on him. He faced his old adversaries — fear of rejection, self-doubts — in his new songs, and he found he could beat them. With his new confidence came his new voice — rangy and virile, but capable of an equally dramatic gentleness — and the rest fell into place.

Mona Bone Jakon, the name of Steve’s initial effort in his "second" career, is said to refer to one’s inability to get an erection:

"I’d already done that drawing of the garbage can with the drop coming out of the top. When I thought of it in relation to the album title, it sort of made sense, so I made it the album cover."

When he talks about his life, feelings of inadequacy pop up in his words:

"The first song l ever wrote was called something like ‘Darling Mary,’ or 'Darling Nell.’

What inspired you?

"I think it was bein’ rejected from her door — Oh, no it wasn’t." he laughed, all but triumphantly. "It was terrible. It was my friend, you see, and I used to go to see my friend. He had a very big family and lots of sisters. I used to go there mainly to see my friend and then suddenly I became aware of one of his sisters. So while he was downstairs, I’d be upstairs with his sister, and he never got on to it; he never found out anything about. it. So it was that kind of scene and I was struggling to express it. I was very weird then."

After spending those months on the road to find out, Cat seems to have resolved those kinds of conflicts. The biggest question facing him that morning last autumn concerned the release of a Cat Stevens single: Should he let them do it? If so, what?

" I think it’s a good idea not to release a single just yet: Maybe they’ll want one from the LP in about two months’ time ...... for when I come over next."

Rock4.jpg (6707 bytes)It turned out that Steve had an impeccable sense of timing. At the time, everybody was too busy with Elton John and James Taylor to pay another new one any attention (at the time, I couldn’t even talk my good friend the editor into letting me review Tea For The Tillerman, Cat’s then brand new album). Two months later, as the populace wearied of all that hyper-aggressive promotion, what should quietly float into the choked atmosphere but ".. . ooh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world, and it’s hard to get by just upon a smile," words and melody so beautifully unprepossessing that hardly anyone could resist it.

"Wild World" gave Tea for the Tillerman enough kick to get it played on FM radio and the exquisite album that Island Records boss Chris Blackwell had unequivocably called "the best album we’ve ever released" (and that meant he felt it was better than Mr Fantasy, among others) began to enchant listeners on a mass scale.

That was the icing on Steve’s cake. The second time around, he played to packed-full houses, to audiences that were as excited before he came on as they’d been after the encore during his first tour. But that didn’t change anything basic. On stage, he was still refreshingly innocent and direct. Oh, he was delighted by the warm response, but then he’d been equally delighted at winning over initially hostile audiences a few months before. (at the end of that now-legendary Fillmore set, he stood and bowed to the waist, then embraced Alun warmly—that lovely show of humility had gotten to even the diehard cynics who’d resisted his charm and skill up to that point).

And little things still delight him as well:

"It’s kind of funny when somebody suddenly says, 'Wow you sound like an old guy!’ " he laughs. "I can’t imagine my voice as being quite like — well, I did imagine it being quite medium range, you know. A normal voice, but a bit harder. But to some people it sounds very old."

A small thing, but revealing, nonetheless: he listens to people — that’s his nature — and now, because of his rapid commercial success, he's getting a volley of feedback. That worries him a bit:

The thing that went wrong with the Beatles is they actually started writing for the people who were reading into their songs. At first, they let it happen from inspiration, and perhaps they wrote something that they didn’t know what it meant. And then finally they started reading about what it all actually meant, and then they became more obvious."

When you set out to write something, do you have a story you want to tell? I mean, do you have something very specific or does it come from words that you just kind of pull out of the air?

"I start out with something specific, and it always ends up that I completely change my idea. And I write something that is absolutely — like just inspiration. I start out being calculated, and from that point, I fall off. And like, uh, I start from there."

And then you have to go back and change the beginning.

"No; I never finish that one. The first one I start I never finish. It's always something new — I write another riff or something and then start over. That’s how you do it: You get on to a line and then fall off. And that’s where you are. And the moment you know that you’re there, that’s when it stops. That’s where everything stops. Intellectually, I can’t write."

It’s fitting that creative calculation is outside his grasp, because everything about Cat Stevens the performer is without affect. Naturalness is at the core of his effectiveness as a writer and as a performer. In the strict sense of the word, Steve doesn’t perform at all — he just is.

That’s all there is to him—but it’s plenty.

This site is best viewed on "800 x 600" screen resolution.
Site Creator - Christine Chenevey   
Special Thanks To:   Jill Mallow, *Keith Balaam, George Brown, Linda Crafar, Bruce Lawrie, DJ Illingworth, Gerardo Roman, Chris & Annie Abrams, Patricia Squillari, Harry Schmieder, Sue Vukson and all who have contributed either with material or support to help make Majicat magical.
* This site is dedicated in the memory of Keith Balaam. ---<----<----@